Editorial: Skip Norman. Testimonies

The first part of Rosa Mercedes 03 was dedicated to Skip Normans personal testimonials and other texts of his own making. In this second part, “Testimonies,” we widen the scope to include recollections of some of his friends, allies, and colleagues—more polyphony to accompany Skip Norman’s voice.

On the occasion of an archival project celebrating fifty years of “Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin” (dffb) in 2016, Gerd Conradt wrote a comprehensive essay on his friend and fellow student who had passed away in March 2015. His text “Black and White, Unite! Unite!” which Ted Fendt translated to English, retraces Skip Norman’s biography, vividly evoking some of their shared experiences at film school and attending to Norman’s prolific work as a cinematographer. Conradt also recalls their meeting in Northern Cyprus in 2002, where Norman had moved to teach photography and Visual Anthropology and where they had a filmed conversation about their friendship with fellow student Holger Meins.

Carlos Bustamante, a dffb student in 1967, was the cinematographer for Blues People (1968), one of Skip Norman’s student films that made a splash at the International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen and controversy entailed, due to its explicit depiction of sexuality. Both had met each other shortly before this collaboration, a film loosely based on LeRoi Jones’ (Amiri Baraka’s) play Dutchman and borrowing its title from Jones’ 1963 book Blues People: Negro Music in White America. In a long conversation that took place in the summer of 2020, Bustamante recalls his encounters and collaborations with Norman between 1967 and 2006.

Thanks to Johannes Beringer’s generosity and support, we are able to include his two short films made at dffb, Das Zimmer (The Room, 1966–67) and Situationen (Situations, 1967). In both of them, Skip Norman was involved either in the camera work (as the cinematographer or camera assistant) or as a performer; the latter, Situationen, includes a memorable scene in Gerd and Lena Conradt’s loft, where Günter Peter Straschek, Holger Meins, and Conradt discuss the agenda of a political cinema while Skip Norman (along with Lena Conradt and the child) sits by them silently.

Apart from the two longer contributions and Beringer’s films, we compiled other, shorter memories that relate to different phases of Skip Norman’s life and work. Beringer’s and Helke Sander’s testimonies reveal more about his specific position in Berlin in the late 1960s until the mid-70s, while Georg Lehner worked with Skip Norman (and Carlos Bustamante) on his WDR production Zwei kluge Männer und die Treue einer Frau (1973).

In their audio recorded conversation—in this case: literally two more voices to listen to—Shirikiana and Haile Gerima, eminent filmmakers, political and cultural activists, take us back to the second half of the 1970s, when Norman had left Berlin to return to Washington, DC. They recall his committed relationship with the students at Howard University where he taught cinematography, and the shooting of Gerima’s Wilmington 10 – USA 10.000 (1978), a film about the incarceration of the “Wilmington Ten,” nine young men and one woman, nearly all of them black, who had been wrongfully convicted in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1971 and had to serve long prison sentences.

In the late 1970s, Skip Norman embarked on a new academic journey. At Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, he started a BA in German which was followed by a MA in Cinema, and an interdisciplinary PhD in Anthropology, Sociology, Photography, and Cinema. Filmmaker Klaus Wyborny remembers some brief encounters at Ohio State University. The urban landscape of Columbus, Ohio is also the subject of a series of photographs that Skip Norman sent to his friend Carlos Bustamante in 1982.

It was not easy to get hold of an email address of Michelle Parkerson, but eventually, we succeeded in contacting her. Parkerson directed, amongst many other films, the award-winning documentary A Litany For Survival: the Life and Work of Audre Lorde in 1995 (available via Third World Newsreel). She had worked with Skip Norman in the late 1970s. On March 20, she replied: “I didn’t know him well, but enjoyed working with him. My memories of Skip are fading—just the brief time in 1979 when he worked as one of many great cameramen for my first documentary feature on jazz vocalist Betty Carter, … But Then, She’s Betty Carter,” a film distributed by “Women Make Movies.”

In the section “Documents” that runs parallel to the various parts of Rosa Mercedes 03, we republish the cover of the issue 5 of the pioneering feminist journal Frauen und Film, founded in 1974 by Helke Sander. It features a collage by the photographer and artist Brigitte Tast. The incident which is ironically depicted on it is the subject of the accompanying editorial of the magazine.


For issue 03 of Rosa Mercedes, we decided to proceed step by step, slowly expanding our focus. In the upcoming parts of the journal, we will shift our attention to some of the larger contexts in which Skip Norman’s own filmwork as a director evolved between 1966 and 1970; then zoom in on the films themselves, and finally highlight his work as a photographer, visual anthropologist and teacher.

We would like to thank all the authors and interlocutors as well as Erika and Ulrich Gregor, Claudia Lenssen, Louis Massiah, Michelle Parkerson, Brigitte Tast, and Debra Zimmerman for their help and support.


Madeleine Bernstorff and Volker Pantenburg, April 2021


Imprint: Rosa Mercedes 03/B, “Skip Norman: Testimonies”

Research Team: Madeleine Bernstorff, Elsa de Seynes, Kodwo Eshun, Tom Holert, Brigitta Kuster, Pascal Maslon, Doreen Mende, Volker Pantenburg, Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe

Editors: Madeleine Bernstorff, Volker Pantenburg

Production: Harun Farocki Institut

Managing Editor: Pascal Maslon

Translation: Ted Fendt, Volker Pantenburg (“Cover Image”)

Proofreading: Mandi Gomez

Thanks to Skip Norman’s family, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb), Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Johannes Beringer, Michael Biron, Carlos Bustamante, Gerd Conradt, Shirikiana and Haile Gerima, Erika and Ulrich Gregor, Georg Lehner, Claudia Lenssen, Louis Messiah, Michelle Parkerson, Elsa Rassbach, Helke Sander, Brigitte Tast, Klaus Wyborny, and Debra Zimmerman.

We have made every effort to clarify all rights of use with regard to the publication of the images and texts used here. In a few cases, despite intensive research, we have not been able to clarify the rights holders. Please contact the Harun Farocki Institut in case of any legal claims.

Wir haben uns bemüht, alle Nutzungsrechte bezüglich der Veröffentlichung der hier verwendeten Bilder und Texte zu klären. In wenigen Fällen ist es uns trotz intensiver Recherche nicht gelungen, die Rechteinhaber zu klären. Bitte wenden Sie sich bei etwaigen Rechtsansprüchen an das Harun Farocki Institut.


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April 30th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / B